The Government's review of the principles applying to the treatment of independent scientific advice provided to government - Science and Technology Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.  We welcome the Government's success in improving the mechanisms by which scientific advice can be fed through into policy. The network of Chief Scientific Advisers and scientific advisory committees has the potential to strengthen the UK's ability to make policy decisions that are based on the best available evidence and to make the UK Government's science advisory system an international exemplar. (Paragraph 2)

2.  We consider that the principles should clearly cover evidence-based expert advice, including social science and statistics. (Paragraph 4)

3.  We welcome Lord Drayson's commitment to resolve the concerns. It is important however, that the principles that emerge from the Government review will become part not only of the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, but more importantly of the Guidelines on Scientific Analysis in Policy Making and of the Ministerial Code. We consider that it is of equal importance that scientists offer expert advice and ministers respond to that advice in accordance with clearly defined protocols. (Paragraph 9)

The content and terms of the principles

4.  We endorse and support the three broad principles set out in the 6 November statement applying to the treatment of independent scientific advice provided to government: (1) academic freedom; (2) independence of operation; and (3) proper consideration of advice. (Paragraph 14)

5.  In our view Government should include in the revised statement of principles a commitment by the Government to uphold and protect the academic freedom of those providing scientific advice to government and an explicit and clear recognition that experts can comment on government policy. (Paragraph 18)

6.  We consider that the 6 November statement of principles strikes a good balance by placing the minimum necessary restrictions on a person serving on a scientific advisory committee speaking publicly on government policy, that is that the person should respect confidentiality, not claim to speak for the Government and should make it clear whether he or she is communicating on behalf of his or her committee. (Paragraph 19)

7.  We recommend that the Government's statement of principles state clearly that scientific advisory committees are independent from government. (Paragraph 20)

8.  We recommend that the Government's statement of principles contain a commitment that the Government will not prejudge the work of scientific advisory committees and will give proper consideration to scientific advice from committees. (Paragraph 22)

9.  We consider that the definition of the principle on the proper consideration of advice should include recognition that the Government can reject the advice of a scientific advisory committee but should explain why it chose not to follow the advice. (Paragraph 23)

10.  We recommend that requirement in principle 3 that "Reports will not be criticised or rejected prior to publication" be clarified to specify that it refers to public criticism or rejection by Government. (Paragraph 24)

The process for agreeing the principles

11.  In order to secure broad agreement to the principles, we recommend that once the Government issues a set of principles in December, it should invite all interested parties, including all scientific advisory committees, to comment before they are finalised. (Paragraph 25)

The operation and application of the principles

12.  We therefore recommend that the Government put the agreed principles and the supporting protocols before the House for endorsement. (Paragraph 27)

13.  In our view it is critical that the principles promulgated by the Government are fully implemented in the working arrangements of the Government and scientific advisory committees. We therefore recommend that, once a set of principles have been agreed, the Government: (Paragraph 28)

a)  issue a statement setting out how the principles will be upheld and enforced and how disputes about their interpretation and applicability resolved; (Paragraph 28(a))

b)  ensure that in their review of the Guidelines that it fully supports and implements the principles; (Paragraph 28(b))

c)  ensure that the Code of Practice makes reference to the principles and is consistent with them; and (Paragraph 28(c))

d)  consider incorporating relevant aspects of the principles into the Ministerial Code. (Paragraph 28(d))

14.  We conclude that the Government Office for Science should be given responsibility for advising members of scientific advisory committees, government departments and ministers they advise on the interpretation and applicability of the principles. (Paragraph 30)

15.  We recommend that in reviewing the Guidelines the Government bring forward arrangements for resolving disputes between members of scientific advisory committees and government departments and ministers. (Paragraph 31)

16.  We recommend that in its review of the Guidelines the Government bring forward arrangements governing the dismissal of a member of a scientific advisory committee for breach of the principles or the Code of Practice. (Paragraph 33)

17.  We recommend that, where the Government rejects the advice of expert advisory committees, it makes clear in writing to the chairman what part of the advice it is rejecting: scientific advice or other kinds of expert advice. Regarding scientific advice, the Government should only reject an expert committee's assessment of the scientific evidence in exceptional circumstances, and in these circumstances its reasons should be clearly laid out. (Paragraph 35)

Press Office

18.  We reiterate the recommendation we made earlier this year that a small press office be set up within the Government Office for Science, to serve the press needs of GO-Science and all the scientific advisory committees across Government. (Paragraph 40)

The treatment of scientific advice across government

19.  We recommend that the Government appoint a panel to carry out a review and report within six months on the treatment of scientific advice across Government, in particular, the implementation of, and compliance with, the recommendations of the Phillips report issued following the BSE crisis and on the adequacy of the arrangements to protect the independence of scientific advice provided to Government. (Paragraph 42)


20.  In our view the principles published on 6 November fully accord with the thrust of the conclusions and recommendations made in our earlier Reports. We endorse and support the broad principles as proposed by Lord Rees and others and published by Sense About Science on 6 November 2009 and recommend a number of changes which we consider will clarify and enhance the application and operation of the principles. (Paragraph 44)

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Prepared 14 December 2009